Thursday, November 14, 2013

Catching Up: 2012

2012: Catching UP

Last week, I posted for the first time in two years. You'll recall from that post that 2012 was the year I focused on my own musical endeavors, which left little time for sponging up others' music in the way I normally would. But here's a review of what I did manage.


As far as new music goes, 2012 was a lost year. The rigors of leading an active band simply didn't leave the time to devour new tunes in the way I had in years past. Additionally, it was something of a quiet year for my top bands. However, I made time for a handful of records, including:

Grizzly Bear—Shields

Fiona Apple—The Idler Wheel (etc.)

Andrew Bird—Break It Yourself and Hands to Glory

Dinosaur Jr.—I Bet On Sky

Jack White—Blunderbuss

Father John Misty—Fear Fun

Beach House—Bloom

Dirty Projectors—Swing Lo Magellan

I'm forgetting some, but really, that's what 2012 was for me. And of that slate, I've only steadily revisited Shields, Fear Fun, I Bet On Sky and Hands to Glory. Speaking of Fear Fun, this is where I get to push my thick-rimmed glasses up my nose and say, "Yeah, I've been a J. Tillman fan since like 2009" (proof!) Of course, J. as Father John is a different animal than the understated folkster with whom I was familiar. But it's always nice to see an artist switch gears to a positive end. Which, by the way, is why I glommed onto Andrew Bird's latter 2012 release. While it still retained many of Andrew Bird's trademark idiosyncrasies (whistling, quirky lyricism, soaring vocals, whistling) the album swaps the baroque histrionics that typify much of Bird's solo canon with a more straightforward Americana approach.

But overall, I was spread so thin that new music fell by the wayside. I did finally get into War On Drugs' Slave Ambient as well as this delightful folk anthology. I know I discovered a handful of other older releases, but they're escaping me at the moment. This is why steadily updating this blog is helpful, you see.


Similarly, my 2012 live music intake suffered due to my personal musical commitments. I probably played 30 rock shows last year, but only caught a handful worth mentioning. Among them:

The Avett Brothers at the North Charleston Coliseum
February 12, 2012

When I was in college, The Avett Brothers used to play New Brookland tavern, a grimy dive in West Columbia. I saw Band of Horses there right after they released their first album. But I never saw the Avetts there, despite my multiple invitations to do so. This will haunt me forever. By the time I got into the Avett Brothers in 2005 when Four Thieves Gone came out, they were on the cusp of graduating to slightly larger venues. I finally saw them at the Music Farm, then at various performing arts centers, and then finally at the Coliseum. With each graduation, the Avetts' live show had to sacrifice some of the wily stage antics. Of course, the actual music was sounding better because of the advantages that more sophisticated audio bring, but we can all relate to the bittersweet realization that a band you used to tout as the next big thing has become just that. You're thrilled for the band—especially when it's guys like the Avetts, who toured relentlessly for years and gleaned a following the old fashioned way before breaking out. They're now doing GAP commercials and play custom guitars and headline festivals. Good on 'em! But it's all happened in tandem with what my ear considers to be a dramatic dropoff in quality—at least the quality that drew me to the band in the first place. But, what can you do? The kids love it!

By the way, the show was phenomenal—third row seats helped, but the Avetts still exude a passion for performing that few bands can match. It was funny to see the folks around us become relatively disinterested with any song that predated I & Love & You, only to sing full bore when a newer song popped up. But thankfully, the band closed with "Talk On Indolence" and I got to bounce around like an idiot while the n00bs wondered what the hell was going on.

In conclusion, to any college kids reading this: if a band from out of town is playing a dive bar and there's a bit of buzz surrounding it, go see the show. You may never hear from them again, but if you skip it and they blow up, you'll kick yourself. Forever. [kicks self]

Beach House at the Music Farm
May 6, 2012

It was hot as hell. We had a terrible view. They played a fine show. We left before the encore.

Wilco at the St. Augustine Amphitheater in St. Augustine, Florida
May 19, 2012

It was the closest they've come in some time, so an overnight trip to America's oldest town was in order. Our tickets were second row center, which I believe is the best ticket I've ever had in 9 Wilco shows. Also memorable: the power went out during the middle section of "Shot In The Arm". The band just gazed at one another amidst the darkness, but Glenn kept the beat going while the audience repeated the line "Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm!" until several minutes later when the power came back on and the band picked up right on cue. Teamwork!

My Morning Jacket/Band of Horses at the Time Warner Cable Town Amphitheater
August 25, 2012

Unfortunately, my buddy and I missed BOH's set because of traffic, but were rewarded with the revelation that our tickets were for the stagefront pit—we'd assumed we'd be embedded in a swath of generally admitted masses. But not so! We had plenty of elbow room and actually ran into a buddy of mine from my days as a Ryan Adams show mainstay.

Anyway, MMJ's performance was magnificent—I'd wager it was one of the top three live performances I've ever seen. This is a band tailor-made for playing on a crisp, starlit night. Band of Horses stood stageside and watched the performance in awe. Mind you, they'd been on tour with MMJ for a stretch already, so they'd been privy to this performance many times. But I can't blame them—I'd drink it in nightly too, if I had the opportunity. The show performance of "Steam Engine" cemented it as one of my favorite songs, and led to a months-long MMJ kick that hasn't fully subsided.

Andrew Bird at the Charleston Music Hall
November 5, 2012

This was the night South Carolina demolished Georgia. I watched the game at a nearby bar and missed the first couple of songs because I couldn't tear away, even though it was well in hand by the 4th quarter. I eventually made it over to the CMH for my second Andrew Bird experience. Specifics are foggy, but I just remember smiling the whole time and that it was an excellent show. He played much of the Hands of Glory album I wrote about earlier, perhaps why I've become so fond of it.


There were a few other smaller shows—Shovels and Rope at a local beer festival comes to mind. But as has been the theme, I can't quite remember what shows I attended as a spectator amidst all the shows I played.

The goal is to get a 2013 catch-up post going next, although I've been a bit more conscientious fan this year so I may split it up into multiple posts. Until then!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

So. How ya been?

The last time I posted to HearSoundsWrite—almost two years ago, as the timestamp on the post below this one indicates—I was at the precipice of something new. In fact, I'd already begun a transition from largely ignored music blogger to largely ignored musician.

Early in 2010, I was bored. I mean that in a musical sense—I'd grown sick of playing acoustic guitar by myself, sometimes taking to a coffee shop to play the twenty songs in a cleared out corner for kindhearted friends and the occasional onlooker. Every now and again, I'd have someone ask if I was in a band—"Nope, just me"— or if they could buy a CD—"I don't have one."

Perhaps I felt insignificant or as though I owed myself something, but I developed an itch to address these voids. I posted a Craigslist ad in March of 2011 in search of a likeminded musician interested in collaborating on...anything, really. It's through that listing that I met a songwriter, who introduced me to a guitarist, who passed my demos along to a drummer, who shared them with a bassplayer. And that, more or less, is how my band fell into my lap. After the first songwriter and I played together for a few months, she became involved in another project. Then, in July or August, that I found myself in a shed with the other three musicians, feeling simultaneously exhilarated and in over my head.

I'd also begun to explore the possibility of recording an album. I had a batch of songs of which I was relatively proud, and a few bucks in the bank—why shouldn't I indulge in such a worthwhile adventure I've long coveted? I knew a guy whose band had hired a local producer to record their album, so I asked for his information. We set up a meeting, and the producer agreed to work with me on a ten song record. While my initial plan was track everything on my own, I chose to recruit my newfound musical comrades as session players to expand the album's sonic reach. It was an opportunity they eagerly embraced. We rehearsed for several months before tracking the songs. These rehearsal sessions led to two new songs (one each from the bassist and guitarist) finding their way onto the record.

The recording process wasn't always smooth. Our producer was sometimes tough to nail down, and we probably blew his budget which resulted in a bit of tension. Because of this, there were takes I wanted to scrap but had to live with, and they still sting to hear. But I'm still tremendously proud of what we put together, and it was an invaluable learning experience for future studio ventures. I'll never forget the day the printed CDs arrived. Still one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

I spent most of 2012 gigging with the band. I'd only ever played with a band in high school, and since then, my performance experience had consisted almost exclusively of tame coffee house gigs. Now, I was playing dive bars on weeknights amidst drunks and partiers, all the while scrambling to learn about pedal boards and amplifiers and how to sing over a rock band. I had a lot of sore throats in 2012. I was also the band's de facto manager, publicist, point of contact, problem solver and HR director. All the while I was working an 8 to 5 job. And now you realize why the blog fell dormant.

We did OK for ourselves. We were never as tight as we could be, but we were a happy stage band and rarely had trouble winning over a bar crowd. But things eventually fizzled. Some tension between band members compounded by my growing desire to scale back led to a semi-amicable dissolution in December 2012. We played a final gig at a favorite dive bar in downtown Charleston, to a raucous reception. After loading out and driving home, I crawled into bed at 2:30 AM. Despite the screaming tinnitus and still-pumping adrenaline, I slept as hard as I can remember.

It was an eventful run. We played to packed bars and we played to empty houses. We appeared in local papers and on local television. We played on some fairly impressive local stages and played in sticky bar corners. We even hit the road a couple of times (Myrtle Beach counts, right?) Just like with the recording process, it was an eye-opening and educational experience. More than anything, I felt initiated.

About a month after the band parted ways, another unique opportunity emerged. The songwriter I'd initially met on Craigslist contacted the guitarist and me to help her with a folk project. A connection had encouraged her to submit for a slot in at a major festival in Virginia, and she asked if we'd round out the act. So we gathered and recorded some demos on a laptop. And believe it or not, we were accepted. Figuring we needed something to sell, we planned a weekend trip to Nashville to record at the guitarist's cousin's home studio. The cousin, an engineer who's worked with some impressive names, was gracious to lend his expertise and impressive arsenal of equipment to our project—pro bono, no less. The result was a five song EP with dazzling sound quality.

The festival was a bit of a letdown. It was clear from the onset that our little act was an afterthought. Perhaps we should have expected it—after all, we essentially BS'ed our way into a lineup filled with some heavy hitters. We were naive enough to think we'd at least get a stage and a PA; we got neither. But, hey, on the bright side: free VIP festival ticket! After all, it was another unique experience I certainly don't regret. Plus, the project gave us the magical Nashville recording experience and forced me to become a better mandolin player.

I never forgot about the blog, though. I've come back and reread old posts and often had the urge to update, but something stupid happened: I let my ownership of the domain expire, and some prospector snapped it up. I guess I take that as a compliment, since it means the domain was worth something. Anyway, this crushed my motivation since who wants to operate with the ignominy of a .blogspot URL? But a recent exchange led me to check on the status of the domain, and lo and behold, it was available. Yesterday, I repurchased the domain. And here I am, back on the horse. For now, anyway.

I doubt I'll update as often as I did back in the day. My duties as a musician haven't completely subsided—I'm still playing, writing and recording music, and in fact am traveling back to Nashville in a few week's time. I'm also writing for a prominent South Carolina Gamecocks blog. Plus, there's that job thing. That said, my brain's got a backlog of musical rumination, observations and lamentations that need a home. And even though it's been a few years, that's exactly how this place feels.